Food Friday: Memorial Day Salads

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It’s Memorial Day Weekend! Hurrah! We can all use a three-day weekend to prepare for summer. It’s time to pull out the white shoes, iron linen dresses, paint the Adirondack chairs, get the boat in the water and head to the beach. There is going to be a lot to do! Some of us are even going to entertain. I’ve strung the lights on the back porch, and have already seen some fireflies return the compliment. Summer is almost upon us!

I love ritual celebrations. I love small town parades. Once, back in his misspent youth, Mr. Friday and his chums had a martini stand at the annual Memorial Day Parade. And back in those days, when one could drink with impunity before noon, we sat in lawn chairs with martinis in hand, and cheered as the Scouts, the school marching bands, the firefighters, some vintage cars, town officials and proud veterans paraded past us. And then we went to a Memorial Day cookout in a park, under the trees, on the river. It was a warm and sunny day, as most happy hazy memories tend to be.

There are many ways to have a Memorial Day cookout. You can go fancy, or you can take an effortless route. Guess which I suggest? There is no need to get elaborate, even with freshly ironed linen. Here are some favorite: traditional and manageable cobbler https://www.bonappetit.com/story/cherry-biscuit-cobbler?, hot dogs or sausages and hamburgers are swell American foods and are great for any Memorial Day picnic. I usually whip up a batch of potato salad, but a bag of Utz sour cream and onion potato chips is never out of place! Is it too hot to bake a cobbler? Just bring out some Bergers. You will be a hero. Or slice open a frosty cold watermelon. Put beers and glass bottles of Coke in a bucket of ice, and don’t forget the cheap white wine.

For picnics and cookouts we like made-ahead and cool foods. If you are hosting a gathering, or are asked to bring something to a holiday event, made a nice, simple salad: corn, fruit, potato, Caprese, pesto, green salads are easily prepared ahead of time, and can be a side dish or a main dish if you have pesky pescatarians lurking:

The Kitchn’s Corn Salad – no cooking required!
https://www.thekitchn.com/corn-salad-268340

Bon Appétit’s fruit salad: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/fruit-salad-fennel-watercress-smoked-salt

My Popular Potato Salad
This is a recipe that people actually ask for – and not just because they are my in-laws and trying hard to be polite! It that constantly evolves and adapts, and each summer brings a new twist. I don’t always have green onions – Vidalias work just fine. No red potatoes? Go for Russets. A little fresh thyme? Why not? It is dependable, tasty and can be adapted and stretched to feed the masses. Just add more potatoes and more mayonnaise. Particularly fine for large picnic gatherings. It tastes best if it has a little time to sit and mellow, so if you can make it in the morning, it is just right by suppertime.

Many, many servings…

2 pounds little new, red potatoes
1 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise thinned with milk
1 bunch green onions, chopped
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Boil the potatoes until tender. While warm (but not still steaming hot) slice potatoes and begin to layer them in a large bowl – 1 layer potatoes, then a handful of green onions and salt and pepper. Pour on some of the mayonnaise mixture. Repeat. Gently stir until all the potatoes are coated. You may need to add more mayonnaise mixture when you are ready to serve, as the potatoes absorb the mayo. Put on the table and stand back – the stampede might knock you down!

We are always big fans of Caprese salad – it is so delicious and such an easy supper to whip up when it has been a frantic day in The Spy test kitchens. We tend to have a line up of tomatoes on the kitchen window sill all summer long and with the basil growing like kudzu on the back porch, there is no excuse not to invest in tomato futures. I plan to indulge in a fresh ball of mozzarella every couple of days to help keep our basil plant well-trimmed and feeling useful.

Caprese Salad
(For which you don’t really need precise measurements.)
Eyeball what you have in the fridge.
1 cup grape tomatoes
1/2 cup small mozzarella balls
3 to 4 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 generous pinch Maldon salt

Arrange the basil, tomatoes, and mozzarella on a plate or in a Tupperware container and drizzle the olive oil dressing over the top. Add salt and pepper as desired. Apply sunscreen and adjust your hat. Instagram. Ah, Tuscany.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/insalata-caprese-13232

Pesto Salad
We like a nice light pesto sauce for fresh pasta when the temperatures rise. Years ago we stopped adding the pine nuts, and instead make a nice thick paste of basil, olive oil, garlic gloves, salt, pepper and fresh Parmesan cheese, that we swirl around the mini-food processor for a moment or two. If it seems too thick, we thin it with a little pasta water. We gave up the pine nuts because they were hard to find, are chock-full of cholesterol, and are expensive. Some people substitute walnuts, but I don’t like walnuts, so I have opted for simplicity.

Basic Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves (no stems)
2 large cloves garlic
½ cup olive oil
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Combine basil leaves, oil and garlic in a food processor and process until very finely minced, and then smooth. Add the cheese and process very briefly, just long enough to combine. Store in refrigerator or freezer, because you will need a container of sunshine in your fridge for a rainy day.

Enjoy your weekend!

“‘Never plan a picnic,’ Father said. ‘Plan a dinner, yes, or a house, or a budget, or an appointment with the dentist, but never, never plan a picnic.’”
― Elizabeth Enright

Food Friday: Celebrating Sophie Kerr

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Sophie Kerr, one of the patron saints of Washington College, in Chestertown, wrote very popular women’s fiction in the early twentieth century. She grew up on the Eastern Shore and started her career in New York, writing magazine pieces, editing the famous Women’s Home Companion, while writing books, plays and short stories. Sophie Kerr was wildly successful in her field, and her financial legacy continues to endow an annual literary prize at Washington College. This year the Sophie Kerr Prize is $63,912, and will be given to one lucky, ambitious student writer on Friday, May 17. Here are some recipes for a jubilant celebration. Please add lots of good Champagne.

https://chestertownspy.org/2019/05/14/the-2019-sophie-kerr-prize-will-go-to-one-of-six-wc-seniors/

Sophie Kerr’s fiction is littered with plucky heroines, and her food writing is full of great regional, American dishes. In the Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery, Kerr wrote a section called, “American Cooks are Good Cooks”, countering arguments that American foods were hopelessly provincial, and lacked the subtleties and sophistication of European gourmet dishes. Stuff and nonsense! Gingerbread, spoonbread, strawberries, clam chowder (with or without tomatoes) – all-American dishes that could turn everyone in the twentieth (and twenty-first) into foodies.

Here is one of Kerr’s recipes from The Best I Ever Ate, by June Platt and Sophie Kerr Underwood, 1953:
Strawberries Romanoff
“Cleaned and capped strawberries are lightly sugared, then chilled for two hours in a mixture of one-half fresh strained orange juice and one-half Curaçao. Serve with heavy cream sweetened stingily, whipped and flavored with vanilla.” That is a writer’s recipe.

There have been many American newspaper and magazine writers who have reliably enlivened our food culture. A few of my favorites are: Nora Ephron, Alex Witchel, Ruth Reichl. (Disclaimer: I am currently reading Ruth Reichl’s latest memoir, Save Me the Plums, and it is terrific! Go grab a copy!)

Nora Ephron, the food writer, novelist, and filmmaker, was a powerhouse of creativity. She was witty, acerbic, clear-eyed and romantic. She could cook. And bake. https://offtheshelf.com/2016/07/reading-nora-12-essential-books-for-every-nora-ephron-fan/

Nora Ephron’s Famous Peach Pie
Preheat oven to 425°F.

INGREDIENTS
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
2 tablespoons sour cream
3 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup sour cream
3 peeled and sliced peaches

Put first 4 ingredients into a food processor and blend until a ball is formed. Pat out into a buttered pie plate. Bake 10 minutes at 425° F. Remove from oven. Beat 3 egg yolks slightly. Combine with 1 cup sugar, flour and sour cream. Arrange peaches in crust and pour egg mixture over peaches. Cover with foil. Reduce oven to 350° and bake 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake 15 minutes or more until filling is done. Yumsters!

https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/nora-ephrons-peach-pie-1259999

Alex Witchel is a James Beard Award-nominated staff writer at The New York Times. She has written a poignant memoir about her mother’s decline into dementia, All Gone, but she has also written some hilarious stories, one about trying to find an ashtray in Martha Stewart’s daughter’s carefully curated minimalist hotel: Girls Only. She also knows quite a lot about food and writes a monthly column, Feed Me for the Times. This will be just the thing for a festive literary celebration:

Lemon Mousse for a Crowd
From Alex Witchel, The New York Times Magazine, May 24, 2006

Ingredients
1 cup egg whites (from about 8 eggs)
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 1/2 large lemons)
1 cup light corn syrup
3 cups whipping cream

Instructions
In a double boiler or bowl set over a pot of simmering water, combine the egg whites, sugar and lemon juice. Whisk the mixture over the simmering water until smooth, airy and very thick, about 5 minutes. Add corn syrup and whisk just to combine, then remove from heat. Transfer egg mixture to a large mixing bowl. Cover and refrigerate about 1 hour.
Remove from refrigerator and add whipping cream. Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the mixture until thick enough to hold stiff peaks, about 2 minutes. Spoon the mousse into dessert cups or bowls, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 15 minutes to 1 hour before serving.

Ruth Reichl, another writer who will enliven any literary soirée, has been a chef, a journalist, a food critic, the last editor-in-chief at Gourmet Magazine and a television producer for PBS. She will make you weep with delight when we celebrate the latest Sophie Kerr Prize winner. Follow her haiku-like tweets on Twitter if you would like to smile every day: (@ruthreichl)

Ruth Reichl’s Giant Chocolate Cake
INGREDIENTS
FOR THE CAKE:
1 ⅛ cups/100 grams unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process), plus more for dusting the pans
¾ cup/175 milliliters whole milk
1 ½ teaspoons/7 1/2 milliliters vanilla
3 cups/375 grams flour
2 teaspoons/10 grams baking soda
Salt
1 ½ cups/340 grams (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups/356 grams dark brown sugar
1 ½ cups/300 grams granulated sugar
6 eggs
FOR THE FROSTING:
5 ounces/143 grams unsweetened chocolate
¾ cups/170 grams (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup/225 grams whipped cream cheese
1 teaspoon/5 milliliters vanilla
2 ½ cups/312 grams confectioners’ sugar

Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter two large rectangular baking pans (13 by 9 by 2 inches) and line them with waxed or parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pans with cocoa (you could use flour, but cocoa adds color and flavor).

Measure the cocoa powder into a bowl, and whisk in 1 1/2 cups of boiling water until it is smooth, dark and so glossy it reminds you of chocolate pudding. Whisk in the milk and vanilla. In another bowl, whisk the flour with the baking soda and 3/4 teaspoon salt.

Put the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat in the sugars until it is light, fluffy and the color of coffee with cream (about 5 minutes). One at a time, add the eggs, beating for about 20 seconds after each before adding the next. On low speed, beat in the flour mixture in 3 batches and the cocoa mixture in 2, alternating flour-cocoa-flour-cocoa-flour.
Pour half of the batter into each pan and smooth the tops. Bake in the middle of the oven until a tester comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes. Let the pans rest on cooling racks for 2 minutes, then turn the cakes onto racks to cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting: Chop the chocolate and melt it in a double boiler. Let it cool so that you can comfortably put your finger in it. While it’s cooling, mix the butter with the whipped cream cheese. Add the chocolate, the vanilla and a dash of salt, and mix in the confectioners’ sugar until it looks like frosting, at least 5 minutes. Assemble the cake, spreading about a third of the frosting on one of the cooled layers, then putting the second layer on top and frosting the assembled cake. https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017692-ruth-reichls-giant-chocolate-cake

That is probably enough sweetness for one celebration. Good luck to all you Sophie Kerr contenders!

“I don’t think any day is worth living without thinking about what you’re going to eat next at all times.”
― Nora Ephron

“Part of the power of home cooking is that everything tastes better when someone else makes it for you.”
― Alex Witchel

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.”
― Ruth Reichl

This is charming: https://www.washcoll.edu/departments/english/sophie-kerr-legacy/

Food Friday: Don’t Forget About Mother’s Day!

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It’s not too late to start planning a little Mother’s Day gesture. But you had best hurry up. I would advise you to put a little thought into it, though. I had an email this morning suggesting that a trip to Jersey Mike’s Subs would be a good idea; “Treat Mom to a Sub!” Perhaps not. I like a good cheesesteak as much as the next mother, and this is definitely a first world problem, but I’d like something homemade. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or well-crafted (and believe me, I have a drawer of summer camp ashtrays, plaster handprints, and dollar store jewels). Maybe this Mother’s Day I could get first pick of sections of the Sunday New York Times, some sweet and crunchy French bread, and some bacon.

I love bacon. I don’t like cleaning it up. Bacon is one of those foods that tastes better when someone else has cooked it. And then poured the bacon grease into a can, cleaned up the splatters, washed out the pan, and has tossed the dish cloth into the laundry, where more elves will take over. Such a life of fantasy I enjoy!

In real life, I tried this glazed bacon recipe from the New York Times last weekend as part of my exhaustive food research for The Spy. We also had French toast. It was divine. Be sure to get thick bacon – otherwise, why bother?

Glazed Bacon https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016900-glazed-bacon

“½ pound thick-cut bacon slices (about 6 slices)
½ cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine

PREPARATION
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking pan with foil; it should be large enough to hold the bacon in a single layer. Place bacon in pan and bake until lightly browned and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes. While bacon cooks, mix remaining ingredients together.
Drain bacon fat from pan. Brush the bacon strips on both sides with the brown sugar mixture. Return bacon to the oven and cook another 10 minutes or so, until glaze is bubbling and darkened.
Remove bacon from the oven and transfer to a cutting board or platter lined with foil or parchment paper. Let cool about 15 minutes. Bacon should not be sticky to the touch. Cut each strip in thirds and arrange on a serving dish.”

I did not cut up the bacon – I divided it evenly between Mr. Friday and myself. With no apologies to Luke the wonder dog, who went without.

This is my standard recipe (practically foolproof) that I pull out for every occasion that calls for French toast: houseguests, Easter, vacation, first day of spring, Sundays, and even birthdays. It was featured once on Food52, although they did not use my illustration, which still makes me a little huffy.

We always have day-old French bread (in fact we have a collection of French bread in the freezer – we will never starve) and it always seems a sin and a shame to pitch it, so this is a delightful and economical way to be frugal consumers. And Mr. Friday loves the added kick of the rum on an otherwise uneventful Sunday morning.

Serves: 4
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 5 min

Ingredients:
1 cup milk (or half and half)
1 pinch of salt
3 brown eggs (any will do, actually – brown are prettier)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg – grate it fresh – do NOT use dried out old dust in a jar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 generous dollop of rum
1 tablespoon brown sugar
8 1/2-inch slices of day-old French bread

Whisk milk, salt, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, rum and sugar until smooth. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium heat. Soak bread slices in mixture until super-saturated. Cook bread on each side for a couple of minutes, until golden brown. Serve with warm maple syrup and powdered sugar. If you add some strawberries and whipped cream it will remind you of the Belgian Waffles from the World’s Fair in the 60s. Childhood bliss!
https://food52.com/recipes/4622-weekend-french-toast

Your mother will thank you for this breakfast, especially if you remember to use cloth napkins, and if you wash up afterward. Then leave her alone to wander over to her Adirondack chair on the back porch, so she can read Normal People, all by herself.

Happy Mother’s Day!

“No one can be independent of other people completely, so why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not.”
― Sally Rooney

Food Friday: Heaps of Asparagus

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Spring is such a busy time of year.

Birds to watch: (don’t forget to clean out your hummingbird feeders and fill them up with fresh homemade nectar: 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Boil the water, add the sugar, dissolve sugar, cool, pour. Easy peasy and super cheap – do NOT add any red food coloring as you will kill our little harbingers of joy. https://nationalzoo.si.edu/migratory-birds/hummingbird-nectar-recipe).

Gardens to mulch: I am using newspapers and mulch this year. No more black fabric. And I have very presentable hydrangea beds, and the roses are happy again. It is such a great concept – supporting our local (and national) scribes, and recycling, without contributing to landfill. I haven’t gone too radical because I have topped the newspaper with garden center-mulch, but you can skip that step if you don’t mind looking at the newspaper. I want to control the weeds without using Round Up, and I am just a wee bit proud of the hydrangeas this year, so I am adding the mulch. https://www.bbg.org/news/using_newspaper_as_mulch

Gardens to plant: We are simplifying this year; tomatoes and hollyhocks in the raised bed, basil, garlic and petunias in the back porch container garden, roses in the side garden, with some daisies for contrast, hydrangeas and yellow day lilies around the back, and day lilies and daisies in front of the spent azaleas in front. Last year we went to town with the raised bed, and learned our lesson about over-planting. Two people do not need eight tomato plants, a dozen bean plants and half a dozen pepper plants. The beans, while they made a great art installation, produced exactly two bean pods. We had the Hanging Gardens of Nebuchadnezzar in our side yard. I am sure the neighbors were highly amused.

Mass quantities of farm-fresh spring fruits and vegetables to gobble up: The farmers’ market has been a delight! Have you seen the heaps of asparagus? Holy smokes. We need to have a spargelfest like they do in Germany. https://www.tripsavvy.com/spargel-festivals-in-germany-1519702 It sounds more crowded than visiting tulips in Holland, or even the ever-popular Oktoberfest.

Sadly, I have just learned that apparently we have been cooking asparagus the wrong way. One of my kitchen gods, Vivian Howard, has taken to posting video cooking tips on her Instagram feed on Tuesdays. And she just said that our tried and true way of roasting asparagus on a cookie sheet is bad! Look her up yourself, https://www.instagram.com/stories/highlights/18029276176187339/ or put up with the annoying ads from the Southern Living website: https://www.southernliving.com/kitchen-assistant/vivian-howard-instagram-tips-asparagus

It makes me sad that we have been committing crimes against nature, but it has always tasted wonderful, and we learned how from a friend who worked at Bon Appétit Magazine. I guess the times they are changing, and we had best move with them. Otherwise, it’s back to 8-tracks and cassettes. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-asparagus-recipe-1916355

Ways to consume your fair share of asparagus: roasted (if you want to feel Vivian Howard’s deep and shaming disappointment in you), stir-fried, butter braised, blanched, boiled, raw, shaved, in pesto, in a frittata, as part of an antipasto, baked, pickled, puréed, grilled, fried in tempura batter, or in a salad. That should keep you busy for a while.

Here is one of my all-time favorites, from Nancy Taylor Robson – from our early days at The Chestertown Spy: https://food52.com/recipes/4034-springtime-asparagus-by-nancy-taylor-robson

The Kentucky Derby is tomorrow. I hope you have your hats ready, julep cups polished and your mint picked. After you have boiled up the humming bird nectar, you can make some simple syrup for your own nectar – Mint Juleps: https://food52.com/recipes/27858-mint-julep

“Marriage? It’s like asparagus eaten with vinaigrette or hollandaise, a matter of taste but of no importance.”
-Francoise Sagan

Food Friday: Peas

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We visited Charleston, South Carolina over Easter. It was a long drive, punctuated by torrents of rain, license plate games, podcasts, a glimpse of King Kong grabbing an airplane in Myrtle Beach, and diverting detours along some country roads as the WAZE app tried to zip us around traffic jams. We saw lots of farm stands, sweet grass basket huts and tiny little barbecue joints with packed parking lots.

Charleston has become a foodie destination. Traditional Southern foods have been rediscovered by the young who are hankering for “authentic” fried chicken, mac and cheese, barbecue, shrimp and grits and delectable biscuits. On another trip to Charleston a few years ago we sought out Martha Lou’s Kitchen on Morrison St. to try the fried chicken of which the New York Times had rhapsodized poetic. A couple of generations of Charlestonians would be horrified to be discovered by the New York Times because they have been lining up for the chicken, collards and corn bread at the tiny establishment for years. It was not a place for crowds, so we were happy that there was room enough for us. http://marthalouskitchen.com

On this Easter road trip, which was a mini-family reunion, we tried someplace new that the Tall One had heard about. We wandered into the Butcher and Bee (also on Morrison St.) expecting conventional Southern cuisine, but found instead a Mediterranean/American eatery with a local food aesthetic that was fairly hip, very friendly and creative. https://butcherandbee.com We by-passed the pleasant dining room, and sat outside under budding trees, so the youngest of us could expend some energy in the clever minimalist-designed wooden play area, with restaurant-supplied trucks and toys. There were seven of us, all very particular, and we each tried something different. Among our choices were a pickle plate, hummus (with schug which sent us all scurrying for Google info: Yeminite chile relish), a rice bowl, an Israeli breakfast for two, and even a burger!

I had an early spring salad with snap peas, radishes, fennel, strawberries and lemon buttermilk vinaigrette. (And a side order of fries, because we can only be so healthy.) The addition of the snap peas was a revelation! I have never thought of adding peas to a salad. I have tossed snow peas into stir fry, and English peas into Fettucini Alfredo, but sugar snap peas cold and in a salad, lightly bathed in buttermilk dressing? Genius. They were better than croutons! It was almost as pleasant as memories of childhood, eating peas from the garden.

Tiny little snap pea pods are sweet and crunchy, unlike English peas, which need to be shelled. And snow peas, while you can eat them from stem to stern, have thinner shells and are flaccid, yet are quite deelish in their modest way.

It’s probably too late this year to plant your own peas, but it is worth putting a note on your calendar to start a snap pea farm of your own next March. You can even grow them in containers, so you have more to enjoy than just grocery store basil plants.
https://www.thespruce.com/garden-vs-snow-and-sugar-snap-1403487

Here are some other pea recipe ideas:

If you feel you must cook them:

Buttered Green Sugar Snap Peas

1 pound sugar snap peas
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon shredded fresh mint

Pluck off and discard the string from each pea pod.

Bring salted water to boil; there should be enough to cover peas when added. Add peas. When water returns to a boil, cook about 3 minutes. Do not overcook. Drain.
Return peas to saucepan. Add pepper, salt, butter and mint. Stir to blend until the pieces are well coated and hot. Serve immediately. https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/3266-buttered-green-sugar-snap-peas

If you will try their sweet deliciousness raw:

https://asweetlife.org/7-ways-to-eat-sugar-snap-peas/

https://www.theawl.com/2015/06/eat-the-sugar-snap-pea-but-dont-cook-it-much/

https://www.slenderkitchen.com/article/sugar-snap-peas

“If you don’t like peas, it is probably because you have not had them fresh. It is the difference between reading a great book and reading the summary on the back”
― Lemony Snicket

Food Friday: Happy Easter!

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Food Friday is on the road this weekend, heading to a family Easter in Charleston. Please indulge me and enjoy our making our favorite Easter dessert. Play nicely at your Easter egg hunts, and let the little ones find all the eggs. You can sip on a Bloody Mary or two.

At Easter I like to haul out my dear friend’s lemon cheesecake recipe, and reminisce, ruefully, about the year I decorated one using nasturtiums plucked fresh from the nascent garden, which unfortunately sheltered a couple of frisky spiders. Easter was late that year and tensions were already high at the table, because a guest had taken it upon herself to bring her version of dessert – a 1950s (or perhaps it was a British World War II lesson in ersatz ingredients recipe) involving saltines, sugar-free lime Jell-O, and a tub of Lite Cool Whip. The children were divided on which was more terrifying: ingesting spiders, or many petro chemicals?

I am also loath to remember the year we hosted an Easter egg hunt, and it was so hot that the chocolate bunnies melted, the many children squabbled, and the adults couldn’t drink enough Bloody Marys. The celery and asparagus were limp, the ham was hot, and the sugar in all those Peeps brought out the criminal potential in even the most decorous of little girls. There was no Martha Stewart solution to that pickle.

Since our children did not like hard-boiled eggs, I am happy to say that we were never a family that hid real eggs for them to discover. Because then we would have been the family whose dog discovered real nuclear waste hidden behind a bookcase or deep down in the sofa a few weeks later. We mostly stuck to jelly beans and the odd Sacajawea gold dollar in our plastic Easter eggs. It was a truly a treat when I stepped on a pink plastic egg shell in the front garden one year when I was hanging Christmas lights on the bushes. There weren’t any jelly beans left, thank goodness, but there was a nice sugar-crusty gold dollar nestled inside it. Good things come to those who wait.

We won’t be hiding any eggs (real or man-made) this year, much to Luke the wonder dog’s disappointment. Instead we will have a nice decorous finger food brunch, with ham biscuits, asparagus, celery, carrots, tiny pea pods, Prosecco (of course) and a couple of slices of lemon cheesecake, sans the spiders, sans the lime Jell-O and Cool Whip. And we will feel sadly bereft because there will be no jelly beans, no melting chocolate and no childish fisticuffs.

Chris’s Cheesecake Deluxe

Serves 12
Crust:
1 cup sifted flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Filling:
2 1/2 pounds cream cheese
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400° F
Crust: combine flour, sugar and lemon rind. Cut in butter until crumbly. Add yolk and vanilla. Mix. Pat 1/3 of the dough over the bottom of a 9″ spring form pan, with the sides removed. Bake for 6 minutes or until golden. Cool. Butter the sides of the pan and attach to the bottom. Pat remaining dough around the sides to 2″ high.
Increase the oven temp to 475° F. Beat the cream cheese until it is fluffy. Add vanilla and lemon rind. Combine the sugar, flour and salt. Gradually blend into the cream cheese. Beat in eggs and yolks, one at a time, and then the cream. Beat well. Pour into the pan. Bake 8-10 minutes.

Reduce oven heat to 200° F. Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until set. Turn off the heat. Allow the cake to remain in the oven with the door ajar for 30 minutes. Cool the cake on a rack, and then pop into the fridge to chill. This is the best Easter dessert ever.

Perfect Bloody Marys:
http://food52.com/recipes/8103_horseradish_vodka_bloody_mary

Remedial hard boiled eggs:
http://www.seriouseats.com/2012/04/how-to-make-perfect-hard-boiled-eggs

More than you thought you wanted to know about eggs:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/jacques-pepin-eggs-are-on-the-outs-again-to-me-theyll-always-be-perfect/2019/03/22/8d2334e0-4cc1-11e9-93d0-64dbcf38ba41_story.html?utm_term=.a6dd368aa915

Fittatas, of course:
https://www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk/recipes/chorizo-parsley-and-goats-cheese-frittata/

https://inspiralized.com/potato-and-leek-frittata/

“Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg before it is broken.”
― M.F.K. Fisher

Food Friday: The End is Nigh

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Are you humming songs of fire and ice? We have been getting ready for weeks and months for the end of Game of Thrones. Seven seasons is a lot of television. While we are not super fans of the Game of Thrones, we are eager to see what happens next. We have been feverishly re-watching the whole shooting match – seven seasons of dragons, battles, swordplay, secrets, giants, incest, blood and guts, palace intrigue, snow and lots of wine. The Lannister family guzzles casks of red wine. Is the wine symbolic, or merely tasty?

(Spoilers abound ahead. I am hoping that Tyrion is the winner of the Iron Throne. He is smart and funny, and his character has evolved from being a clever, drunken wastrel, to someone of strength and integrity, who still likes a good glass of red. Although I like that unhinged Daenerys Targaryen, who is always perfectly coiffed even mid-flight astride a dragon. Oh, and I like Sansa, too, who cooly let the dogs have their way with Ramsey Bolton – she is steely and regal.)

Although we will not have a viewing party Sunday night, Mr. Friday and I are planning on a small feast, which will include red wine. And nothing tastes better with red wine but fresh, crusty bread. This is my favorite go-to recipe for bread: https://www.markbittman.com/recipes-1/no-knead-bread It does require a little planning – so if you are going to try baking it for Sunday night, start on Saturday. It is rustic and crusty, much like something Hot Pie would have baked, back in the day, for young Arya Stark.

There is an actual, official Game of Thrones cookbook! A Feast of Ice & Fire. https://www.amazon.com/Feast-Ice-Fire-Official-Companion/dp/0345534492/ref=sr_1_1?crid=20H5T5PSOCXO9&keywords=a+feast+of+ice+and+fire+cookbook&qid=1555007899&s=gateway&sprefix=A+Feast%2Caps%2C135&sr=8-1 My goodness. It is organized by region, so you can use all your valuable spare time comparing the various foods of the Seven Kingdoms. Here is a recipe for Dire Wolf Scones: http://www.innatthecrossroads.com/hot-pies-direwolf-scones-2/

I cannot imagine eating a lot of the food that has been in Game of Thrones. Remember the stallion’s heart that Daenerys scarfed down in Season One? And Joffrey got what was deserved during the Purple Wedding, but did we need to see it? How about a tasty Bowl of Brown? https://gameofthrones.fandom.com/wiki/Bowl_of_brown. And wouldn’t you just love a juicy slice of Frey pie? (Walder Frey: “Where are my damn moron sons? Black Walder and Lothar promised to be here by midday.” Arya Stark: “They’re here, my lord.”
— Lord Walder Frey while being served Frey Pie.)

There are several commercial tie-ins to the Game of Thrones, naturally. You can buy a bottle of Johnny Walker White Walker Blended Scotch Whisky. There are Game of Thrones Oreo cookies for heaven’s sake! And if you want to order the special Game of Thrones menu at Shake Shack, you must speak Valyrian. https://www.delish.com/food-news/a27101897/shake-shack-game-of-thrones-menu/

We’ll keep it simple. A recognizable protein, bread, salad and wine. And then we will have a tasty dessert of lemon cakes that Sansa would enjoy, too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_TPdzzPH9A

“Cersei set a tasty table, that could not be denied. They started with a creamy chestnut soup, crusty hot bread, and greens dressed with apples and pine nuts. Then came lamprey pie, honeyed ham, buttered carrots, white beans and bacon, and roast swan stuffed with mushrooms and oysters. Tyrion was exceedingly courteous; he offered his sister the choice portions of every dish, and made certain he ate only what she did. Not that he truly thought she’d poison him, but it never hurt to be careful.”
-George R. R. Martin

Food Friday: Spring Perennial

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It’s time to put the wool away and focus on spring and all the felicity therein. The towhees are performing an operetta in the front yard. The blue birds are setting up housekeeping in the nesting box out back. Our daffodils are bobbing in the breeze, and now, in the evening, though still cool, we have enough sunshine for a quick Rhubarb Spritzer on the back porch as we watch the sun go down. The mosquitoes haven’t yet taken up residence, so quick, get outside and enjoy the coolth.

Plan ahead for the weekend: make some rhubarb juice.
½ cup sugar
¾ pound rhubarb, chopped
4 basil leaves, for garnish

Much Prosecco

In a medium saucepan, bring 1/2 cup water, sugar, rhubarb to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the rhubarb is tender, about 10 minutes. Push through a fine-mesh sieve. Let cool.
Fill 4 small glasses halfway with ice. Pour into each glass a scant 1/4 cup rhubarb juice, then top with Prosecco or sparkling wine, or if you insist, soda water to taste. Garnish with a basil leaf.

We had a couple of rhubarb plants growing in the lower garden, near the mulch pile by the barn. We never ate the rhubarb. My mother was never going to serve Rhubarb Spritzers, so I think it they were plants she inherited from the original owners of the house. Like the Jack-in-the-Pulpit by the steps and the bank of Lilies of the Valley on the west side of the stone wall. I have to use store-bought (or farmers’ market-bought) rhubarb, and that’s a good thing.

Every spring there are cascades of recipes for rhubarb and strawberry pies, cakes, jams, lemon bars, tarts, crumbles and fools. Which are all wonderful and delicious, but this year I want to try a couple of new recipes; where rhubarb isn’t the main novelty or ingredient, but is a subtle and unusual taste.

I am related to a couple of people who are always looking for the next best ribs recipe, and I think this might scratch their itch, for this weekend, at least: https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/rhubarbecue/

And here is one that will make an excellent Sunday night supper: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/roast-chicken-with-rhubarb-butter-and-asparagus-56389535

Try this for something light in the middle of the week, when you want to stay out in the garden a little bit longer and plant those daylilies, or when you cannot stand another minute in the kitchen: http://carolcookskeller.blogspot.com/2007/05/salad-du-printemps-rhubarb-confit-with.html

And any of these meals can only be enhanced if you give in to the springtime celebration of sweet and sour rhubarb desserts. An Eton Mess is always bliss, but it becomes more than a schoolboy treat when rhubarb and lemon basil are added to the lush whipped cream and the airy and crisp meringue. Or maybe you should reconsider dinner, and just have some Eton Mess with those Rhubarb Spritzers. Yum. https://food52.com/recipes/22388-eton-mess-with-rhubarb-gin-jam-and-lemon-basil-meringue

Roasting the rhubarb elevates the humble lower garden vegetable considerably. This shortcake will be scarfed down by your rib lovers, too: https://food52.com/recipes/76923-slab-shortcake-with-roasted-rhubarb

And something easy to make, and keep in the fridge to give you another little taste of spring even when the mosquitoes are back, and the frantic moths are circling the the back light: rhubarb jam. There is a link in this recipe for a PDF for printing jam jar labels:
https://cookienameddesire.com/rhubarb-jam-recipe/

Please remember if you are eating home-grown rhubarb DO NOT eat the leaves – very sick-making.

“I want a dish to taste good, rather than to have been seethed in pig’s milk and served wrapped in a rhubarb leaf with grated thistle root.”
-Kingsley Amis

Food Friday: Spring into Salads!

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Spring is sprung! And Food Friday has snuck away for spring break. Indulge me, and enjoy this redux.

I want to retire the crockpot, stash the Dutch oven, put the lasagna pan out to pasture and start digging into light, healthy, crispy fresh green salads. With crusty French bread and sweet butter and a glass or two of cool Chardonnay. In my bare feet. In shorts.

I am heartily tired of the winter weather and snowy concerns. I am ready to spend some time in my humble little container garden. How about you? The more organized among you have probably thumbed through all the seed catalogues, marked your favorites with Post-its or have cleverly started your salad gardens in tiny peat containers or out in your cold frames. Obviously there was enough time with all the snow days this winter to linger with pleasure over the many tantalizing illustrations and photos of giant tomatoes and mouth-watering melons. I fell into the Burpee catalogue and just placed my order online, so when the seeds arrive I’ll have to get cracking on the Spring Salad Project.

March is a good time to get a jump on cool-season vegetables. You can start the annual competition with the deer and rabbits for the finest lettuces, broccoli and spinach. We are going to try some mixed, loose-leaf, heat tolerant lettuces this year. I want to enjoy the practical, health conscious and economic concepts of growing our own lettuce, with an eye to the decorative. I envision my ecclectic collection of odd terra cotta pots brimming with a array of colorful, wafting lettuce leaves. A veritable cornucopia of renewable crunchy salads!

That is always the best part of gardening, seeing everything in your mind’s eye in the gauzy Technicolor future. Somehow there I am always wearing a float-y white outfit as I drop my bountiful harvest into my antique English garden trug, clipping merrily (and with surgical precision) with the vintage secateurs. Reality won’t elbow that fantasy out of my suggestive and malleable brain for a couple of months…

I was appalled to see that the cheater’s way of buying lettuce at the grocery store has gotten so expensive – $4.09 today for a single puny bag of pre-washed mixed spring greens! I have had enough! Enough of the madness! I am fighting back. I have just spent $5.95 for 500 lettuce seeds. Let’s see what my actual return on the dollar is, at roughly 1.2¢ a seed…

Here is Burpee’s perky and unintimidating video for growing lettuce. http://www.burpee.com/vegetables/lettuce/how-to-plant-grow-lettuce-article10469.html

While I was earnestly researching lettuce seeds I was diverted by the day dream that I am able to grow hydrangeas, which are my favorite flowers (after violets, daffodils and lily of the valley) but which I can never seem to grow. Maybe this year I’ll be lucky. I have just ordered ten Nikko Blue Hydrangeas, as well as the lettuce seeds. And pole bean seeds, morning glory seeds and some half price vinca seeds. Obviously, I will have to regale you with some gardening stories later this season, as I watch them all grow. With crossed fingers.

But back to the matter at hand – salad: as usual, we are hoping that the basil container farm will be busy and bushy this summer, as well as the annual tomatoes, which I hope won’t wither on the vine. We are also considered trying to make our own fresh mozzarella cheese. Maybe it would be easier to just move to Italy. But that depends on the lottery officials, I am sad to say.

My mother was always fond of ordering from the kind folks at Burpee, so give them a whirl. She always had an amazing garden. http://www.burpee.com/

“It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is ‘soporific’.”
― Beatrix Potter

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